Razorbacks Set to Defend SEC Indoor Title
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The Razorbacks are heading into the Southeastern Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships as the No. 1 team in the nation and will look to carry over that ranking on a league level when they travel to Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 27-29. Arkansas is sending 26 athletes to defend its conference crown at the Nutter Field House and is hoping to make it the Hogs’ eighth-straight and 12th overall SEC title since 1992.
“It’s going to be tough for us this year at conference,” Arkansas head coach John McDonnell said. “We’ve got a good team and we’re ranked No. 1 team in the nation, but the conference is a different story. Florida has a very, very good team and every way we score it it’s practically a dead heat. It’s going to be a matter of who’s going to show up and get the job done. If everybody does what they’re supposed to it will still be a dead heat.”
Even though Florida is only ranked sixth by Trackwire, the Gators have quality depth in the 400 meters, 60-meter hurdles and the field events. Arkansas will have to counteract those events with its strong relays, sprints and distance events.
“They are very strong in the quarter mile, hurdles and the field events,” McDonnell said. “We’re strong in the sprints and middle distances. Our field events this time around are almost nonexistent. We have a couple high jumpers, two pole vaulters and one long jumper. That’s it. We’ll have to score very heavy in the 60, 200, 400, 800, the mile, 3,000, 5,000, the distance medley and the 4×4. Those are events where we’ll have to get our points.”
Almost all of the UA athletes will be doubling in events, while several are even tripling to help bring home the first-place trophy. One of the most popular combinations is the 3,000 and 5,000-meter runs. Senior All-American Alistair Cragg, junior All-American Jason Sandfort, sophomore transfer Eric Gross and freshmen Josh Harper and Mike Poe will all represent Arkansas in those events.
Cragg, a two-time Commissioner’s Cup winner, will be defending his SEC 3K title, while going for an NCAA automatic time in the 5K. Sandfort is the only Hog who has posted a provisional time in the 5,000, so he and Cragg should be able to pull the rest of the field along to gain more qualifiers.
Freshman Adam Perkins will join them in the 3,000 meters, while sophomores Luis Bordes and Matt Gunn are taking to the track in the 5,000.
The 60 and 200-meter dashes will be loaded with Razorback runners, with sophomore transfer Tyson Gay leading the charge. Joining the UA record holder is junior transfer Omar Brown and freshman Creighton Kiper. A victory for Gay in the 60 would mark the first time an UA athlete has successfully taken the tape in the event. Freshman Wallace Spearmon will join them in the 200, while also competing in the long jump and the 4×400-meter relay.
Senior All-American Michael Thomas is the lone Hog in the competitive 60-meter hurdles with the third-best time in the SEC and the nation.
The mile run is a place where Arkansas can score valuable points with NCAA champion senior Chris Mulvaney providing leadership for junior Michael Taylor and freshman Sam Vazquez. Mulvaney will also compete in the 800 meters with junior James Hatch, sophomore David Wittenmyer and freshman Ryan Botha.
Arkansas has a strong distance medley relay team with Vazquez, Botha, junior Chason Pompey and Taylor handling the baton. The 4×400-meter relay will conclude the meet on Sunday, Feb. 29, and consist of senior Maurice Bridges, Brown, Spearmon and junior transfer Terry Gatson. Bridges, Gatson and Pompey are also scheduled to see action in the 400-meter dash.
The field events will include junior Cory Oldham and freshman Greg Martin in the high jump and senior P.J. Brown and junior Jimmy Duke in the pole vault.
Even though Arkansas will be without the services of Said Ahmed, Robbie Stevens and Jaanus Uudmae the rest of the Razorbacks have a good attitude about the conference championships and what is expected of them. The trio of All-Americans are nursing nagging injuries, but McDonnell is hopeful they will be able to return to full strength in time for the outdoor campaign.
“It’s (the team’s attitude) good,” McDonnell said. “Our guys know that this is going to be a tough meet. Our ranking doesn’t mean anything. You can be ranked No. 1 in the country, but anyone can knock you off. I’ve always called it a mini NCAA. We have to be ready for this meet just like we would for the national championships and if we’re not we’re going to get beat.”
The SEC Championships, hosted by the University of Kentucky, will start on Friday, Feb. 27, with the heptathlon. The rest of the field and running events get under way on Saturday, Feb. 28, and end on Sunday, Feb. 29.
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